On Location in Sri Lanka
A virtual tour of South Asia's pearl-shaped island.
When author Nathan Borchelt, traveled to Sri Lanka for three weeks in October, 2005 to write “The Sweet Life,” about the Ceylon Tea Trails, for the April issue of Outside (now on stands) he didn’t know what to expect. Less than a year had passed since the 2004 tsunami had devastated three-quarters of the country’s coastline, dealing a harsh blow to the island nation’s tourist infrastructure, which had been on the rise before the disaster.
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“Sri Lankans are tenacious,” said Borchelt. “They endured a decades-long civil war between the Tamil Tigers and the Sinhala-dominate Sri Lankan government, where over 60,000 people died. And they dealt with the effects of the tsunami with the same unshakable resolve. They’re also some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Inviting, welcoming, appreciative of your interest in their culture.”
While the effects of the tsunami were apparent along fringes of the tear-shaped country—gutted houses, displaced families, the skeletal frames of once-grand beachfront hotels—further inland, the country remains pristine and ripe for exploration.
“There’s just so much geographical diversity in Sri Lanka,” Borchelt explained. “You can drive east from the congestion and humidity of Colombo to dense rainforest to the high-elevation climes of Kandy to the manicured landscape of the tea country in a matter of hours. The running joke among locals and expats is if you don’t like where you are, just drive for four hours in any direction and everything changes.”
But one place that stands out among his many memories is, undeniably, the Ceylone Tea Trails. “That place is really what travel is all about. Gorgeous landscapes, guest rooms without TVs, amazing curry meals, great conversation,” he said. “You can hike or cycle or just read. You interact with the locals in a truly genuine way. You witness the inner workings of one of the island’s primary industries. And if you want to head out to the UNESCO World Heritage sites or to the island’s national parks, it’s all within striking distance.”
With centuries-old ruins of ancient cities, untapped backcountry, bustling urban centers, some of the world’s best tea, and a diverse culture composed of a variety of different religions Borchelt says he would go back in a heartbeat—oh, and the beaches ain’t bad, either.